“Werewolves in Their Youth” is a refreshing short story collection, mostly because Chabon is an author who is unafraid of telling a long story and allowing you to truly sink into the story itself. Too often, American short fiction in the past 20 years seems to place its sole emphasis on concision, almost as if the reward for writing/reading is in how much you can say in how few words, regardless of whether or not what you’re saying is even interesting, relevant, or enjoyable. If we can establish a character in 20 words, as opposed to a full page, we get some sort of award? To this idea, Chabon seems to say emphatically, “Fuck that.”
Simply put, he’s a gifted storyteller, and his pleasure in writing is evident with every single sentence. There’s a lot to be said for the energy of a writer, I think, and again, I read far too much fiction that feels like work, and that feels like it was work for the author, too. No, even when a story is dark or depressing, I want to feel a love for language and a love for the art of storytelling. It’s hard to describe how this is accomplished, but Chabon does it.
While I disagree with the various reviews below mine that seem to suggest that his subject matter is narrow in scope (“the first few I read each involved an estranged couple that solved all their problems by having spontaneous, amazing sex…”: that’s a great summary of a single story, but in no way defines the book), Chabon does seem at his best when he’s writing about intensely curious characters, intensely obsessed characters (usually, obsession with pop culture is best), or immature men and boys whose immaturity threatens their ability to achieve anything important or decent. At the same time, though, these are characters and themes that are present not just in this collection, but in ALL of Chabon’s work. Consider “Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” or “Wonder Boys,” or “Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” and see if the above descriptions do not fit the characters in those novels. Criticizing his consistency in theme is akin to criticizing Scorsese for, like, only doing crime stuff.
For me, “Werewolves in Their Youth” is that rare short story collection that seems to understand and improve upon the many problems in contemporary short story writing. Is it perfect? No. While I love that Chabon will write 30-page stories without apology, he does tend to fall in love with his descriptions and similes a bit, and the stories can sometimes derail as a result. But it’s this imperfection that makes this collection fun. It doesn’t strive to be perfect, as so many other literary short stories do, and so it maintains its honesty and its sense of fascination with the characters and the situations narrated.